MONROE, CT — When Monroe’s public schools faced significant budget cuts, town officials turned to the teacher’s union for help. Teachers responded by agreeing to three furlough days, allowing the district to avoid layoffs.
Board of Education Chairwoman Donna Lane says the move will save enough money to keep five teaching positions.
“It’s marketing at the high school. It’s the culinary program at the high school. It’s the music program, reinstating fifth grade band and orchestra, and two of the reading teachers,” Lane said at Monday’s board meeting.
Acting Superintendent of Schools Joseph Kobza and Lane both expressed their gratitude to the Monroe Education Association for negotiating the memorandum of understanding, and to the teachers who agreed to the concessions and ratified the agreement last week.
“I’m thankful,” Kobza said. “I’m not necessarily amazed, because we have great people in this town and great teachers in our district.”
The Board of Education unanimously approved the agreement at its meeting on Monday.
Kobza said teachers agreed to furlough Monday, March 15, and the last two instructional days of the 2021-22 school year. There is also a clause saying the district will do all it can to reinstate those furloughed days if savings are found elsewhere in the budget, Kobza added.
He said the agreement will save the district $126,000 for each of the three days.
The $58.5 million budget the Board of Finance approved for Monroe’s public schools represents a 2.19 percent spending increase over the current budget, but it is far from the 5.7 percent increase Superintendent of Schools Jack Zamary requested at the beginning of the process.
Before the education budget made it to the Board of Finance, the Board of Education cut the proposal by $500,000 and First Selectman Ken Kellogg cut it by another $500,000. Then the budget passed by the finance board anticipated $1,038,898 in savings if teachers agreed to forgo their raises for 2020-21.
Central Office came up with lists of potential reductions for the initial $1 million in cuts, as well as a list covering the $1,038,898. Because of the union concessions, Kobza said some significant cuts can now be avoided.
“This is going to realize considerable savings and really help us to avoid some cuts that were going to really impact our kids,” Kobza said, “and I can’t thank the MEA enough for being such great partners.”
Among the potential reductions was a districtwide music teacher, which sparked nine letters from parents and students expressing their concerns. However, the union concessions will spare the position from the chopping block.
Lane said the Board of Education will vote on lists of reductions at their meeting next week.
Several Board of Education members expressed their gratitude to the MEA and the town’s teachers.
Lane said teachers did not have to come to the bargaining table to help the town with concessions, so spending cuts could be avoided, and thanked them for stepping up.
“A heartfelt thank you to the MEA, to the teachers in the town,” said Shannon Monaco, a board member. “This is one of the things that kind of resonates with what is unique in Monroe. You don’t find this everywhere. They put the kids first and they put the district first — and it’s greatly recognized and appreciated. They didn’t have to do what they did and I thank them.”
Board members David Ferris and Jeffrey Fulchino shared Monaco’s sentiments and appreciation for the teachers
“Once again, the MEA has shown that this is a gigantic partnership and I thank them so much,” said Jerry Stevens, another board member.
Fellow board member Nick Kapoor said he feels like the whole year has probably been the wildest one ever for Monroe’s teachers. First, Kapoor said 50 people had to attend a Town Council meeting to get the teachers contract passed, then they had to transition to teaching online, then with their newly approved contract, “oh, by the way, we have to look back at what we did.”
“As Joe said, you want to say how amazing this group is,” Kapoor said. “We have some of the best teachers in Monroe and we couldn’t do this without them. It’s such good news in sometimes really trying times.”